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Film Score Friday 6/2/00

by Lukas Kendall

Happy birthday... to us!

Holy cow! Film Score Monthly was started as a one-page newsletter by myself in June 1990 -- ten whole years ago. Frankly, I cannot believe it. I used to sit and think about this month, June 2000, and how I could finally celebrate 10 years of this operation. Now it's finally here.

To give you a sense of how much time has passed, ten years ago I was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school, and the new movie score I thought was fantastic was Total Recall. Most of my soundtrack collection was vinyl and cassettes and all I wanted to find in the world was the Atlantic Records LP of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- which had been x'd over as "sold out" in Starlog magazine and wouldn't exist on CD for several years.

It was a different world and I can't believe ten years have gone by. We'll be commemorating our first decade of activity in the Vol. 5, No. 5 issue of FSM. You know, feel free to send us a nice "congrats" email....

Concerts

The Walnut High School Symphonic Orchestra will feature guest conductor Bruce Broughton conducting cues from Tombstone, Rescuers Down Under, Boy Who Could Fly, Young Sherlock Holmes and other movie music cues tonight, Friday, 7:30 at WHS Performing Arts Center (California). Call for more info: 909-594-2263; $6 adults, $4 students and seniors.

In case anyone reading is in Bermuda: The Bermuda Philharmonic Society (email: bps@ibl.bm) will be doing their annual outdoors Pops Concerts on Saturday & Sunday June 3rd & 4th, 2000. These are free concerts, and this year's program will include some exciting movie music -- selections from Amistad, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Schindler's List, The Mission and more.

Ennio Morricone is scheduled to premiere his score to the classic silent film Richard III on June 9 (next Friday). Here's the press release from the Flanders International Film Festival:

    ENNIO MORRICONE LIVE IN GHENT

    European premiere 'Richard III' on June 9

    On June 9, the Flanders International Film Festival - Ghent will organise a truly unique concert by world renowned Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, the soloists DULCE PONTES and GEMMA BERTAGNOLLI, Belgium's National Orchestra and both the Cantabile - Rondinella and Vivente Voce choirs.

    During the concert's first part, the screening of The Life and Death of King Richard III (1912) will be accompanied with live music by Morricone. It marks the very first time that this score will be performed live in Europe. The second part of the evening consists of an anthology of the composer's work. The event takes place on the eve of Euro 2000, the European Football Championship in Belgium and The Netherlands.

    Richard III - a brief history

    In 1996 the American Film Institute (AFI) received a phone call from William Buffum from Oregon. He wanted to know whether the institute was interested in a "few old movies" in his collection. Among the material was a nitrate print, in mint condition, of William Shakespeare's The Life and Death of King Richard III (1912) a film that until this discovery had been considered lost. Even today, Richard III is the oldest American movie still available.

    Ennio Morricone was then asked to compose a new score for Richard III. Comparable to scores such as the ones he wrote for The Untouchables or Novecento, the result again underlines the composer's feel for dramatic efficiency.

    Anthology from Morricone's musical career

    During the concert, Ennio Morricone will also present an anthology from his work. The programme consists of both popular as well as lesser known work from the maestro, and includes music from such films as La battaglia di Algeri (1965), Sacco e Vanzetti (1971), Indagine di un cittadino al di sopra di ogni Sospetti (1970), Pereira Declares (1996), La classe operaia va in paradiso (1971), Vittime di Guerra (1971), and Quemada (1969).

    Modernity of the myth of Sergio Leone's cinema

    In this part, Morricone will conduct some of his best-known classic work, the scores he composed for such Sergio Leone films as Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly), C'era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West), and Giù la testa (Duck You Sucker!).

    This special concert will be concluded by music from The Mission (1986).

    Practical information

    This unique concert takes place on June 9, 2000, at 8pm, in Kuipke (aka Sportpaleis Ghent). Admissions: 950 Bf, 1300 Bf, 1600 Bf, en 2000 Bf. Tickets are available at all Fnac stores in Belgium and France. Ticket hotline 0900-00600 (in Belgium only!), and +329-2428060 (from abroad). Reservation fee: 50 Bf,- at Fnac; 75 Bf,- (telephone + mailing). Discounts: 10% friends of the festival, Fnac-members, Fortis bank card holders; 20% students and 55+

Gladiator Bag

We've printed a lot of disagreeing letters about Gladiator and Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard's score. I only saw the movie last night so I haven't been participating... but I'll do so now.

If there's one thing I've learned in 10 years of doing Film Score Monthly it is not to confuse matters of quality with matters of taste. (Remember when Edward Norton's character is arguing in front of the Supreme Court in The People vs. Larry Flynt? He argued that the issue in question was a matter of taste, not of law. Similiar thing here.) I'm as guilty of this as anyone but I have seen the error of my ways.

Gladiator is an impressively mounted film done in a sensibility and style that will not please everyone. My main problem with it is that basically the entire story revolves around the fact that one person who is very important is a spoiled brat... a lot of the movie's points about nobilility vs. corruption are pretty bland in this light. But there are tons of inept, awful films with terrible and incompetent scores. This was not one of them. Ridley Scott is one of the great technicians of cinema and Hans Zimmer is one of the leading musical stylists and producers. I think Gladiator betrays shortcomings of their combined aesthetics -- their river runs strong but not necessarily deep -- but it also features them at the top of their game.

If you like the way Dimitri Tiomkin scored Rome you may find it a personal affront the way Zimmer does it. But it's not like Tiomkin's version was historically accurate either -- it's all impressions and guesswork. And frankly I don't see how fans of classic scores like Spartacus could fault Zimmer's thundering battle music -- specifically the Russian-sounding material with major chords moving chromatically on medieval-sounding scales. This is the best film music I've heard in a long time and watching the opening battle was a real "holy cow" synthesis of music and image for me -- chilling stuff.

So please, let's debate our different notions of quality but leave a little respect for others' taste.

From: Graeme Stewart <ohwise1_99@yahoo.com

    I think that what you said about the new film "Gladiator" was far too critical! This film is one of the best films I have ever seen and really depicts and captivates what the Roman Empire was like at that time. Scott has really captivated the classical elequonce of Rome as well as its beauty and fascinating architecture. It transports you to another world, and this is what films are meant to do. This was certainatly the impression I recieved and I am sure others also feel this way.

    The score by Hans Zimmer furthur made this film for me, indeed the music became like a character at the end of the film. This was an excellent score, one of his finest, and I think he should feel proud that he contributed so much to this film because it was such a high standered. Even at the beginning of the film with the ominous flute entry grinding against the harmony just set the scene for the entire fim. I read once in Film Score Monthly that he sees only about two percent of good material composed by him in one year, I definatly think that this is included in that two percent!

    I think that you should try listening to the CD before making such comments on what is actually a marvelous score, because it is clearly obvious that you have not. A film score is meant to do one thing: show through music what is happening in the film and to not only become like a character itself but also to transport the audience to another place namely (in this case) ancient Rome. This is exactly what Zimmer has achieved.

    Go and listen to the CD!

From: Jason Needs <jneeds@bridgeway.co.uk>

    I totally agree with your comments on Gladiator and the merits of both the 13th Warrior and Ghost And The Darkness as a comparison. Warrior's epic approach would have made a great temp track and replacement score and captured the true feel of Gladiator.

    I have heard John Barry was up for Gladiator but a producer, not Scott, wanted Zimmer.

From Bob Bryden:

    I've already made it clear I love 'Gladiator' - the film - and that Zimmer's score, despite its consummate lack of originality, is a bravura bit of 'pastiching' and works with the film wonderfully. I also agree with your recent 'mailer' that the exclusion of the beginning 'Zucchabar' music is a drag - but now having seen the film 5 times (I have NOT gone everyday since it came out) I clock at least another hour of available music for that necessary Volume Two CD. (Are you reading, Hans? And if you are I now come to 'the main drag').

    Two things: I found a copy of 'The Beast' Lp by Mark Isham in a rock and roll used store on the week-end and having not heard it in at least a decade - bought it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this has got to be 'the mother of all world music scores'. Released in 1988 and despite some Miles Davisian passages in the horn writing - this sounds a whole lot like 'Gladiator'!!!! (All kinds of drones, percussion and wailing 'exotic' female stuff!) Now this news is even worse and I'm sure many of your readers will bear it out: I saw 'Mission Impossible 2' last night. What a catastrophe! (It never ceases to amaze me that when the reviewers all rave [MI-2 - at least they are raving in Canada!] it's often lousy and when the reviewers say a movie is 'so-so' [Gladiator] it's often great!) In any case, fasten your 'disgust-belts' folks because Zimmer's score sounds (unbelievably) profoundly like 'Gladiator' out-takes - complete with 'Wailing Female Exotic Voice Parts Four Through Five!!!!' I could not, repeat, COULD NOT believe my ears. I even heard the man in front of me lean over to his friend and say, 'That sounds like Gladiator'.

    For Zimmer to have two movies running in adjoining cinemas with virtually the same score is ridiculous to the max. MI-2 totally cheapens the already 'dangling integrity' of the Gladiator score. (Now, don't get me wrong, you zealots out there. I know MI-2 is filled with plenty of variations on the Schifrin theme and some solid rock jamming that WOULDN'T have made it to the Gladiator soundtrack - but these bits are the lesser of the score and the all the key 'dramatic' moments [using the term very loosely] are punctuated with Gladiator rejects - for sure! Like any time 'The Babe's' eyes well up.) Anyway, I was struck incredulous by Zimmer's complete conceit with MI-2 (that's a good word to describe the entire project by the way). It says a lot that they guy in the seat in front of me picked up on the redundancy of the score. He's probably just a normal dude who has ears (or maybe he's a fellow soundtrack fanatic and I missed an opporunity to bond.) In any case Zimmer's MI-2 score is an insult to the intelligence of 'any' audience.

From: "Maurizio Caschetto" <lordsidious@libero.it

    After seeing Gladiator (a funny movie but not a masterpiece, as someone shouted) and listening to its score by Hans Zimmer, I came up with some thoughts about the "models" that film music applies so many times. I'm talking about the umpteenth "homage" to Gustav Holst's well-known symphonic poem The Planets, which Zimmer cites clearly in his score, along with Richard Wagner's Siegfried Funeral.

    This marvelous piece of orchestral music was associated many times with sci-fi/fantasy/adventure-type of film scoring, being homaged (or ripped-off, you be the judge) by a lot of composers, John Williams first. Williams paid a clear and effective homage in the first Star Wars score (Lucas reportedly temp-tracked the rough cut with Holst), but it was so innocent and filled with fun that the homage turned out to be amusing, because it sounded to the audience as something new and fresh. But after that, we were literally overwhelmed by continuous rip-offs of that symphonic piece. James Horner could be the "champion" on this: he homaged The Planets so many times that it's a little bit embarassing. And while seeing Gladiator, I realized this: after more than TWENTY years we are exactly at the same point! But I don't want to slag Zimmer or anyone else, nor I want to eulogize Williams for having been the first film composer homaging Holst. It's only my own consideration. Personally, I'm a little bit annoyed to hear another score with the umpteenth rip-off of Mars, Bringer of War.

    I think this is mainly a problem of Hollywood film scoring, the issue of how many times film composers are forced to copy the temp-track assembled by the filmmakers also. I will bring another example: Ennio Morricone's Mission to Mars. I didn't like neither the movie nor the score, but I have to admit that Morricone's approach, although out of place, was something DIFFERENT than the usual scoring for that kind of movie. Having said this, I think Zimmer's work for Gladiator is effective. It mirrors perfectly Ridley Scott's aesthetic for the movie, with all that kind of historical errors and anachronistic ingenuity. But it's also a testament on how film music today is grasping on recycle of the same, old ideas. Come on, composers! Find out something new, something different! See how a composer like Jerry Goldsmith was capable, in '60 and '70 mainly, to explore different kind of soundscapes and styles.

    I think that this is a natural consequences of the general lack of substance of today Hollywood movies also, as our Lukas Kendall pointed out in one of his FSM editorials a year ago or so.

Love's Labours Lost

See yesterday's CD review.

From: "Karl Scott" <karlcharlotte@earthlink.net

    I thought Woody Allen made the concept work very well in "Everyone Says I Love You" with actors singing, including himself. The film was a delight and the actor's voices {except for Drew Barrymore who they had to dub) added to the charm and realism of the presentation. I can't imagine if they had brought in classical singers as in West Side Story what the result would have been. If this KB outing is even 1/2 as good as Much Ado About Nothing it will still be masterful.

Unity Bag

See the recent column speculating on "Film Score Unity."

From: Kyle <appycare@appleogue.net

    In response to Dan Hobood's "Thoughts on Unity"

    I'm not a fan of the soundtrack (and I mean that in the most general sense - all the sounds: music, foley, music) of Gladiator. My feeling after leaving the Seattle Cinerama was that it was the best movie of the year if one is deaf. The score was a mere patchwork of undistinguished bits culled from wherever; Lisa Gerrard's contribution was clumsy and mawkish;and the sound effects were less convincing than the sound effects from any episode of Martial Law. The visuals were great.

    I'm leery, however, of the proposition that a score cannot be great unless it has thematic unity. (I hope I haven't mis-stated or over-compressed Dan's thesis.) There are instances of good music written for movies that are eclectic and (gasp!) compilations of pre-existing music.

    The contrary instance that got me thinking about this was watching an episode of the original Star Trek. The library cues were used to great effect, but lack Hobgoodian unity. In fact, they were composed with the knowledge that they would be subject to re-use. I think Jeff Bond discusses this in his Star Trek music book.

    I should mention that I am a fan of Goldsmith's music and am in awe of his dramatic sense. Comparing Gladiator's score to two of Goldsmith's scores is really stacking the odds against Gladiator. Where does Gladiator stand in the genres it fits into? How does it compare to other Ridley Scott movies? Considered in those contexts, Gladiator might have a chance at defending itself.

    What is necessary for greatness is for there to be <i>some</iorganizational principle at work, a commodity in all too short supply. My impression of most recent vintage movies is that if someone ever had a clue about their movie, it was removed in committee. I'll avoid discussing the large class of movies that are entirely anti-clue, the remake of Psycho being the most egregious of this common type.

    In sum, I think Dan is 100% correct except for the parts where he's got it wrong.

Classical Thoughts

From: Joonas Linkola <linkola@wwnet.fi>

    Just thought you might be interested in this - don't know if you are. :)

    A classical music magazine called Classica (published here in Finland bi-monthly) features film music extensively in their latest issue, out today. The contents of the magazine include general analysis on the use of film music (mickey-mousing, underscoring, Max Steiner and late romanticism etc.), a look at the use of classical music in films (with a short analysis on the use of Ride of the Valkyries), a list of important film scores (in their opinion) and of the most used classical music in films.

    They also have articles on a Finnish film music composer Tuomas Kantelinen and the Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner (who composed music for the films of Krzystof Kieslowski) plus a short look at Finnish film music.

    This month's accompanying CD which is provided with each issue of the magazine features an eleven-minute Vertigo suite (conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonics) and parts of Sostakovits' New Babylon (conducted by James Judd and performed by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra). The article introducing the CD in the magazine features a look at the lifes and works of both Herrmann and Sostakovits.

    The general tone of all the film music articles is, if not directly negative, somehow overlooking (my opinion only, though). They only discuss about the early masters of film music (Herrman, Rozsa, Steiner, Meiselin etc.) and completely ignore John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry and all the other contemporary composers (they are only briefly mentioned in the "important film music" list).

Thanks for the information on this -- very interesting. I'm not too surprised -- or really disappointed -- at the slight you describe above. I mean, if film music fans were discussing classical music, they'd naturally gravitate to those works that sound like movie scores!

John Williams Clarinet Concerto

See this recent column for information on a CD-R floating around of this JW concert work:

From: Lester Sullivan <lsulliva@mail.xula.edu

    Despite the warnings, I got a copy of the MP3 CD-R of the Clarinet Concerto by John Williams. For those unused to concert music, which tends toward greater sophistication than a lot of movie music right now, please be assured that the Concerto is indeed quite melodic and will grow in appeal with repeated hearings. If you are not used to live recordings with a concert hall perspective, as opposed to the spotlighting more characteristic of movie music recordings, try listening to the Concerto with headphones. The soloist is superb, and the details will just jump out. The price is small, so Williams fans may want to reconsider before dismissing the opportunity to hear this subtle work. Although I wonder about copyright, I feel fortunate to be living when such things are so readily available.

Links

See the BBC's website for a short interview with Jerry Goldsmith -- focusing mainly on the theme to Chinatown: http://www.bbc.co.uk/movies/film2000/interviews/goldsmith.shtml

See Music from the Movies for a review of our new Beneath the Planet of the Apes CD which got four and a half "M's": http://home6.swipnet.se/~w-67269/pages/soundtrackframe_1.html

Comments? Send to: Mailbag@filmscoremonthly.com


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